About Those “Low” Average ACT Scores Here in North Carolina

As reported yesterday’s News & Observer, NC’s ACT scores reside near the very bottom in the nation.


“New results released Wednesday from the Class of 2018 show that North Carolina’s average score remained at 19.1 out of a possible 36. The state was below the national average of 20.8 and tied for 46th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.”

There are lots of reasons why NC’s averages are that low compared to the rest of the nation – most of which are related to how North Carolina’s policy makers have altered the terrain of public education system.

When a report like this comes out and displays some “shocking” numbers, it becomes fuel for many who wish to offer interpretations to sway public sentiment. It’s an election year for goodness sake.

A big election year.

That is why the following quote does not sit well with this public school teacher. Why? Because it’s wrong and blatant misrepresentation of what is actually happening. Because it’s nothing more than shilling for a partisan ideology that here in North Carolina has been pushing for privatization.

“This is just the most recent example of the disconnect between inputs and outcomes,” said Terry Stoops, vice president of research and director of education studies at the John Locke Foundation. “Despite substantial increases in teacher compensation over the last five years, there have been no meaningful improvements in overall student performance on ACT tests.”

That’s the first quote in a piece by the Carolina Journal on the ACT score report – ACT scores show national downward trend as N.C. remains below average.

It’s as if he said, “Well look at all of the money we have spent raising teachers’ pay and what do we have to show for it? These pathetic below-average ACT scores.”

When NC still lags behind the national average in teacher pay by %16 after it removed longevity pay and graduate degree pay bumps, using the term “substantial raises” is really empty electioneering.

It makes one want to have Stoops explain the following table compiled by John deVille, NC public school activist and teacher veteran who has chronicled the various changes in educational policy for years. He tracked the recent teacher pay “increases” and used DATA-DRIVEN logic to show something rather interesting.


What deVille did was to compare salaries as proposed from the recent budget to the 2008-2009 budget that was in place right before the Great Recession hit, the same financial catastrophe that most every GOP stalwart seems to forget happened ten years ago. Adjusting the 2008-2009 salary schedule with an inflation index from the Bureau of Labor, the third column shows what those 2008-2009 salaries would be like now. Most steps see a shortfall. Add to that the loss of longevity pay that was used to help finance these “historic raises” and the amount of money lost by teachers over these past ten years becomes rather eye-opening.

But Stoops calls those “substantial raises.”

Furthermore, North Carolina is only one of seventeen states that makes all students in NC public schools take the ACT. As related in the aforementioned News & Observer article:

“One reason for North Carolina’s low national ranking is that it’s one of only 17 states that requires all its high school students to take the ACT. Scores are much higher in states where the standardized exam is not mandatory and might only be taken by students who intend to go to college.”

But NC is still near the bottom of that seventeen state cohort.

Stoops offers some other possible reasons, but there requires so much more honest reflection on the part of the policy makers whom Stoops and the John Locke Foundation support would want to perform to make a difference. It would mean that the “reforms” that Stoops and others like him would be exposed as pure privatization efforts of public education.

“There are many possible explanations for our state’s inability to prepare a larger share of students for college-level work,” Stoops said. “Effects from changes in student demographics should not be discounted. Instructional practices that followed the statewide adoption of Common Core English and math standards and revised state science standards likely play a role.”

Besides, those thoughts are given as an afterthought.

Maybe there are more direct and indirect reasons for these “dismal” scores because so much has been enacted to erode the landscape of public education. Possibly:

  • uneven salary increases
  • removal of due-process rights
  • no more graduate degree pay bumps
  • low per pupil expenditure rates on the national scale
  • a school grade performance system that literally only shows the effects of poverty
  • insipid bills like SB 599 and HB 514
  • allowing privatizing entities to enter NC and have influence on policy
  • merit pay and bonus pay schemes
  • lack of teacher input into educational “reforms”
  • removal of over 7500 teacher assistants
  • elimination (and the shadowed re-creation) of the Teacher Fellow Program
  • unregulated charter school growth
  • vouchers
  • a horrible principal pay plan
  • reliance on secret algorithms like those found in EVAAS to measure teacher effectiveness
  • class size chaos
  • horrible charter virtual schools
  • an unproven Innovative School District
  • attacks on educational advocacy groups
  • a revolving door of standardized tests
  • a revolving door of teacher evaluation protocols
  • lack of student services
  • lack of textbooks
  • and a state superintendent who seems more loyal to everybody except the public school system that he was elected to serve.

And that does not even begin to cover the effects of poverty. The ACT report refers to poverty specifically when it released the scores. Again, from the Carolina Journal article:

“The ACT report suggests a few ways to turn around the dismal scores, such as providing equitable resources for underserved students and providing educators with more resources.”

To which Stoops replied,

“Regardless of how we got here, it’s important for state education officials to explain to taxpayers why only 18 percent of North Carolina high-schoolers met all four college readiness benchmarks.”

Fully funding public schools, providing more wrap-around services, and giving teachers more of what they say they need to help students would make that comment by Stoops crumble.

And the officials who run state education? Does he mean Mark Johnson and the powers in the NCGA that enable him? Maybe they can proctor that day in which the ACT is given.

Voting for pro-public education candidates on November 6 (or earlier) would be more proactive.

Get to the polls!


















Using Systemic Poverty to Privatize Public Education

If one thing is for certain, North Carolina’s school performance grades are a confirmation that student poverty levels have so much to do with how schools perform.

Those performance grades also help to fuel “reform” efforts.

EdNC.org released a new version of its Data Dashboard that allows users to filter for different variables when viewing data pertaining to NC’s school performance grades.

This is what this year’s performance grades look like when viewing them as plotted on a map of the state.


Look at that more closely.


And look at the numbers of student body percentages that received free & reduced lunches as correlated with the school performance grades.


No school that had 0 – 25% free and reduced lunch (low poverty) received a score of “D” of “F”. The other bars explain themselves.

The default settings are set at how the current grades are calculated: 15 point scale and 20% growth / 80% “achievement”. But that grading point scale will be changing soon.

Budget fact

That will seismically change things and the interactive map shows that.



Just changing the grading scale to a ten point scale would increase the number of students in “low performing” and failing schools nearly threefold.

Those school performance grades are based on a model developed by Jeb Bush when he was in Florida. It’s disastrous and places a lot of emphasis on achievement scores of amorphous, one-time testing rather than student growth throughout the entire year.

It’s part of the “proficiency versus growth” debate that really came to the forefront during the Betsy DeVos confirmation hearings when she could not delineate between whether test scores are used to measure student “achievement” or student “growth.”

The people who made the decision to change the school performance grading system formula next year, expand vouchers, create an ISD school district, and deregulate charter school growth ABSOLUTELY UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROFICIENCY AND GROWTH. IT HELPS TO VALIDATE THEIR WANT OF REFORMS THAT ACTUALLY PRIVATIZE PUBLIC EDUCATION.

Imagine if more emphasis was placed on “growth” than achievement as measured by amorphous standardizes tests. Here is what the scores would look like on a 15 point scale if growth and achievement were equally balanced.


But the current NCGA will not allow that to happen. Those test scores mean too much to a plan.

It is no wonder the most recent school chosen to be taken over by the Innovative School District is a “high poverty” school: Carver Heights Elementary School in Wayne County.

It is a school that has a 90% free & reduced lunch population.

And just recently, DPI under Mark Johnson (who is all in for these “reforms”) received a grant to open up more charter schools for “economically disadvantaged” students.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Office of Charter Schools will receive $23.6 million over five years to help the state’s charter schools meet the needs of economically disadvantaged students. North Carolina is one of eight states to receive the Expanding Opportunities Through Quality Charter School Program grants from the U.S. Department of Education. 

The funding, which totals $10.4 million for the federal fiscal year that began Monday, will be used for sub-grants to new and existing charter schools to:

  • Assist new charter schools that will serve a large economically disadvantaged student population in their planning year 
  • Assist charter schools in their first three years of operation that serve a large, economically disadvantaged student population
  • Assist high-quality charter schools that serve a large economically disadvantaged population and want to replicate
  • Assist high-quality charter schools that want to expand to serve a larger economically disadvantaged population

“North Carolina’s charter schools should be laboratories of innovation, proving grounds for ideas that can be scaled across all our schools and all student populations,” said State Superintendent Mark Johnson. “This funding will allow schools to better serve our students in the most need and increase the diversity of students served by charter schools (https://www.ednc.org/2018/10/03/department-of-public-instruction-wins-federal-grant-to-expand-charter-school-opportunities-for-traditionally-underserved-students/).”

Makes one want to look at the districts that were redrawn by the current powers that be to help make the political landscape remain intact; that is what gerrymandering is supposed to do.

Makes one want to see what schools were most affected by the hurricanes that forced many to close for a while and while being allowed to “forgive” missed days, the NCGA did not allow for much in the way for calendar flexibility. Will that affect  “achievement”scores? That’s not a rhetorical question.

What this really shows is that in a state that did not expand Medicaid, gave huge tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy but not to the average North Carolinian, runs on a supposed surplus, and chooses not invest fully in its public schools, systemic poverty becomes a reason to enact “reforms” that profit a few and not the state as a whole.

Vote this election year to change that.







Nix All Six – A Reading Comprehension Test for NC’s Six Constitutional Amendments


When a student takes a standardized test in North Carolina, it is always good to realize that there is a certain psychology that goes into the making of a test: “distractors,” almost correct answers, the “throwaway,” etc.

Imagine taking a reading comprehension test on what exactly the six constitutional amendments are on the November 6th ballot. There certainly was a plan to write them a certain way – a sick psychology to say the least. It’s almost like they are like “trick” questions on a test.

The good thing is that you only have to choose one of two answers on actual Election Day, but maybe this pretest will give you some insight.

Amendment #1 – 

As it appears on the ballot:

“Constitutional amendment protecting the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife.”

What the amendment actually said in legalese:

“Sec. 38. Right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife.
The right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife is a valued part of the State’s heritage and shall be forever preserved for the public good. The people have a right, including the right to use traditional methods, to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, subject only to laws enacted by the General Assembly and rules adopted pursuant to authority granted by the General Assembly to (i) promote wildlife conservation and management and (ii) preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. Nothing herein shall be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights,
or eminent domain.”

Question #1 – What does the ballot form amendment actually mean?

A. That those who made it wanted to leave out certain key parts of the description so that it would pass.
B. It does not stipulate what would happen around parks and schools.
C. Don’t people hunt and fish already and is this just something being pushed by pro-gun lobby?
D. All of the above.

Amendment #2 – 

As it appears on the ballot:

“Constitutional amendment to strengthen protections for victims of crime; to establish certain absolute basic rights for victims; and to ensure the enforcement of
these rights.”

What the amendment actually said in legalese:

Enforcement of rights. Except as otherwise provided herein, the General Assembly shall further provide, by general law, the procedure whereby a victim may assert the rights provided in this section. The victim or, if the victim is a minor, is legally incapacitated, or deceased, a family member, guardian, or legal custodian may assert the rights provided in this section. The procedure shall be by motion to the court of jurisdiction within the same criminal or juvenile proceeding giving rise to the rights. The victim, family member, guardian, or legal custodian have the right to counsel at this hearing but do not have the right to counsel provided by the State. If the matter involves an allegation that the district attorney failed to comply with the rights of a victim when obligated to so do by law, the victim must first afford the district attorney with jurisdiction over the criminal action an opportunity to resolve any issue in a timely manner.

Question #2 – What does the ballot form amendment actually mean?

A. That those who made it wanted to leave out certain key parts of the description so that it would pass.
B. It does not stipulate who pays for it because there is too much ambiguity.
C. It delays justice by adding more paperwork.
D. All of the above.

Amendment #3 – 

As it appears on the ballot:

“Constitutional amendment to reduce the income tax rate in North Carolina to a maximum allowable rate of seven percent (7%).”

What the amendment actually said in legalese:

Income tax. The rate of tax on incomes shall not in any case exceed ten seven percent, and there shall be allowed personal exemptions and deductions so that only net incomes are taxed.”

Question #3 – What does the ballot form amendment actually mean?

A. That those who made it wanted to leave out certain key parts of the description so that it would pass.
B. It actually allows for the potential for higher sales tax and property taxes to make budgets meet in times of recession.
C. It saves a lot of rich people money.
D. All of the above.

Amendment #4 – 

As it appears on the ballot:

“Constitutional amendment to require voters to provide photo identification before voting in person.”

What the amendment actually said in legalese:

“Photo identification for voting in person. Voters offering to vote in person shall
present photographic identification before voting. The General Assembly shall enact general laws governing the requirements of such photographic identification, which may include exceptions.”

Question #4 – What does the ballot form amendment actually mean?

A. That those who made it wanted to leave out certain key parts of the description so that it would pass and it actually does not go into specifics.
B. It does not stipulate what ID’s are allowed.
C. It is a form of voter suppression.
D. All of the above.

Amendment #5 – 

As it appears on the ballot:

“Constitutional amendment to change the process for filling judicial vacancies that occur between judicial elections from a process in which the Governor has sole appointment power to a process in which the people of the State nominate individuals to fill vacancies by way of a commission comprised of appointees made by the judicial, executive, and legislative branches charged with making
recommendations to the legislature as to which nominees are deemed qualified; then the legislature will recommend at least two nominees to the Governor via
legislative action not subject to gubernatorial veto; and the Governor will appoint judges from among these nominees.”

What the amendment actually said in legalese:

“Sec. 23. Merit selection; judicial vacancies.
(1) All vacancies occurring in the offices of Justice or Judge of the General Court of
Justice shall be filled as provided in this section. Appointees shall hold their places until the next election following the election for members of the General Assembly held after the appointment occurs, when elections shall be held to fill those offices. When the vacancy occurs on or after the sixtieth day before the next election for members of the General Assembly and the term would expire on December 31 of that same year, the Chief Justice shall appoint to fill that vacancy for the unexpired term of the office.

(2) In filling any vacancy in the office of Justice or Judge of the General Court of Justice, individuals shall be nominated on merit by the people of the State to fill that vacancy. In a manner prescribed by law, nominations shall be received from the people of the State by a nonpartisan commission established under this section, which shall evaluate each nominee without regard to the nominee’s partisan affiliation, but rather with respect to whether that nominee is qualified or
not qualified to fill the vacant office, as prescribed by law. The evaluation of each nominee of people of the State shall be forwarded to the General Assembly, as prescribed by law. The General Assembly shall recommend to the Governor, for each vacancy, at least two of the nominees deemed qualified by a nonpartisan commission under this section. For each vacancy, within 10 days after the nominees are presented, the Governor shall appoint the nominee the Governor deems best qualified to serve from the nominees recommended by the General Assembly.

(3) The Nonpartisan Judicial Merit Commission shall consist of no more than nine
members whose appointments shall be allocated between the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Governor, and the General Assembly, as prescribed by law. The General Assembly shall, by general law, provide for the establishment of local merit commissions for the nomination of judges of the Superior and District Court. Appointments to local merit commissions shall be allocated between the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Governor, and the General Assembly, as prescribed by law. Neither the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Governor,
nor the General Assembly shall be allocated a majority of appointments to a nonpartisan commission established under this section.

(4) If the Governor fails to make an appointment within 10 days after the nominees are presented by the General Assembly, the General Assembly shall elect, in joint session and by a majority of the members of each chamber present and voting, an appointee to fill the vacancy in a manner prescribed by law.

(5) If the General Assembly has adjourned sine die or for more than 30 days jointly as provided under Section 20 of Article II of this Constitution, the Chief Justice shall have the authority to appoint a qualified individual to fill a vacant office of Justice or Judge of the General Court of Justice if any of the following apply:
(a) The vacancy occurs during the period of adjournment.
(b) The General Assembly adjourned without presenting nominees to the
Governor as required under subsection (2) of this section or failed to elect a
nominee as required under subsection (4) of this section.
(c) The Governor failed to appoint a recommended nominee under subsection (2)
of this section.

(6) Any appointee by the Chief Justice shall have the same powers and duties as any other Justice or Judge of the General Court of Justice, when duly assigned to hold court in an interim capacity, and shall serve until the earlier of:
(a) Appointment by the Governor.
(b) Election by the General Assembly.
(c) The first day of January succeeding the next election of the members of the
General Assembly, and such election shall include the office for which the
appointment was made. However, no appointment by the Governor or election by the General Assembly to fill a judicial vacancy shall occur after an election to fill that judicial office has commenced, as prescribed by law.”

Question #5
– What does the ballot form amendment actually mean?

A. That those who made it wanted to leave out certain key parts of the description so that it would pass and it actually does not go into specifics.
B. It is a power grab by the legislative branch over both the executive branch and the judicial branch.
C. It is a means to pack the court with favorable candidates for the NCGA.
D. All of the above.


Amendment #6 – 

As it appears on the ballot:

“Constitutional amendment to establish an eight-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement in the Constitution to administer ethics
and elections law.”

What the amendment actually said in legalese:

“Sec. 11. Bipartisan State Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement.
(1) The Bipartisan State Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement shall be established to administer ethics and elections law, as prescribed by general law. The Bipartisan State Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement shall be located within the Executive Branch for administrative purposes only and shall exercise all of its powers independently of the Executive Branch.

(2) The Bipartisan State Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement shall consist of eight members, each serving a term of four years, who shall be qualified voters of this State. Of the total membership, no more than four members may be registered with the same political affiliation, if defined by general law. Appointments shall be made by the Governor as follows:
(a) Four members upon the recommendation of the leader, as prescribed by
general law, of each of the two Senate political party caucuses with the most
members. The Governor shall not appoint more than two members from the
recommendations of each leader.
(b) Four members upon the recommendation of the leader, as prescribed by
general law, of each of the two House of Representatives political party
caucuses with the most members. The Governor shall not appoint more than
two members from the recommendations of each leader.

(3) The General Assembly shall enact general laws governing how appointments shall be made if the Governor fails to appoint a member within 10 days of receiving recommendations as required by this section.”

Question #6 – What does the ballot form amendment actually mean?

A. That those who made it wanted to leave out certain key parts of the description so that it would pass and it actually does not go into specifics.
B. Changing the number from 9 to 8 allows for gridlock, which is what the NCGA wants.
C. It is a form of stalling the elections process.
D. All of the above.

The simple fact that the ballot version of the amendments leave out vital pieces of information deliberately is enough reason to vote against all of them.

Nix all six.





The Fear-Slinging Hyperbole of Phil Berger And Why The “MOB” Should Vote for Jen Mangrum

Call it for what it is: Phil Berger fears Jen Mangrum. She’s met every ill-conceived obstacle he has thrown at her head on and she has overcome. And now as the final month of the campaign season, Berger has resorted to an old method of electioneering: hyperbole mixed with appeals to unfounded fears.


“Destroy.” “Abortion.” “Gun control.” “Higher taxes.” “Complete control.” “Anarchists.” “Socialists.” “Radical.”

And the worst part? No Oxford comma!

That message sent by Berger is one of fear – the fear that the voters in his district will see through his empty rhetoric and partisan actions and vote for someone who actually will represent all people.

Interestingly, the word “mob” can be looked upon in a few different ways, but in many instances it is a group of citizens galvanized for immediate action.

But Carl Sandburg, the great common-man’s poet (who did reside on NC for a while), had maybe the best description of the “mob.”

I Am the People, the Mob

I am the people—the mob—the crowd—the mass.
Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world’s food and clothes.
I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.
I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me. I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes me work and give up what I have. And I forget.
Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember. Then—I forget.
When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year, who played me for a fool—then there will be no speaker in all the world say the name: “The People,” with any fleck of a sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.
The mob—the crowd—the mass—will arrive then.
That’s a good “mob” to be in. Hopefully the “crowd” and the “mass” will “arrive” on Election Day and vote for Jen.

Could This Happen to North Carolina? Because The Ingredients Are There

We have a state superintendent with an eye for charters and school choice.

We have a General Assembly that wants to grow the voucher system exponentially.

We have a DPI that is slowly being overtaken by charter school champions.

We have enacted every sort of “reform” known.

We are still spending less per pupil when adjusted for inflation than before the Great Recession.

We have just received a grant from Betsy DeVos’s federal office to expand charter school opportunities for traditionally under-served students in the same year that HB 514 was passed to allow for affluent white municipalities to create charter schools to serve only their residents.

Take a look at this: When Communities Lose Their Public Schools For Good, What Happens To The Students? Michigan May Soon Find Out.

“What if some communities no longer have public schools? That question, once unthinkable in America, may now be something policy leaders and lawmakers in at least one state may want to consider.

In Michigan – home state to US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos whose political donations and advocacy for “school choice” and charter schools drastically altered the state’s public education system – some of the state’s largest school districts lose so many students to surrounding school districts and charter schools that the financial viability of the districts seems seriously in question.

According to a new report, more than half of Michigan school districts experienced a net loss in enrollment last year, and the percent of student attrition in many of the state’s large districts is shocking, upwards of 60 to 70 percent.

Can a school district experiencing such losses in student enrollment continue to keep the doors open?”


Why Service Work Matters For High Schoolers And the Rest of Us

October 15th is rapidly approaching and I am busy rereading drafts of recommendations for those students who have deadlines for early decision applications and scholarship awards. This year, most early decision recs are being sent to UNC-Chapel Hill, my wife’s alma mater. Some to App State’s Honors College. A couple to USC in Columbia. One to my beloved Wake Forest.


I am also honored to write a few for Morehead-Cain and Park scholarship consideration.

A transcript can say many things about academic achievement and course work mastered. Test scores can be sent easily. Numbers can be measured against other numbers.

So, when I write a recommendation I try and write about what kind of service work a student may have performed. It helps paint a better picture of a student and an even better image of a person who is committed to community.

Just today, West Forsyth played host again to the Piedmont Down Syndrome Support Network’s Buddy Walk. It is the biggest event of the year and its most vital fundraiser. In the years that it has occurred at West, nearly $450,000 has been raised to help families of children with special needs, specifically Down Syndrome. I am in one of those families. My son, Malcolm, happens to be “genetically enhanced.”

I get to recruit the student volunteers for this big day, and literally about an hour ago I looked at the volunteer sign-in sheet. Over 200 students from West volunteered and came to help.


That’s nearly ten percent of the student body came out to help other people.

Our country talks of deficits, usually in quantifiable ways like money and materials and even time. However, the biggest deficit I believe we have as a country is a deficit of empathy. We simply have forgotten to empathize and put ourselves in the shoes of others.

But when you see as a teacher, parent, taxpayer, voter, and concerned citizen over 200 students from one school going out of their way on a Saturday morning to help some families like mine with some special kids, then you see how that deficit can quickly be eliminated.

I will write about that all day long on a recommendation because service work matters to us as a society. We never know when we will need it for ourselves.

Just last week West had a fundraiser for an adopted school in eastern NC drastically affected by recent hurricanes. Students wanted to help other students. In a span of about two hours, a bunch of students raised several hundred dollars for some other students because they wanted other school families to be able to stay together the way these kids bonded with each other tonight.

It would take several hands with many fingers to count all the ways that students in many high schools are performing service work that is not necessarily documented on some time sheet to fulfill a requirement that might make a college application look good.

If a student cares about his/her community, then that student will find a way to help. That action to help creates a bond and whittles away at the deficit of empathy. It creates community. And it shows that we adults could learn a lot from these students.

In fact, we need that desperately.

That and it makes writing a lot of these recs so much easier.

Buying Teachers’ Votes

What was reported in a recent edition of the Independent Tribune out of Cabarrus County is the epitome of a politician trying to buy the teacher vote under the guise of truly being pro-public education.


From October 9th,

On Monday afternoon, teachers at Royal Oaks Elementary and Northwest Cabarrus Middle School were asked to stay after school for a quick staff meeting.

When they walked into their media centers to see some special guests— including Senator Paul Newton— they knew something was up.

Newton has teamed up with the Cabarrus County Education Foundation and Staples to present certified classroom teachers at all of the schools in the Cabarrus County Schools district with a $100 Staples gift card to use for school supplies.

The foundation kicked the giveaways off with these two schools and plans to visit all of the others to give out gift cards in the next few weeks.

“One of the things we know is that teachers end up spending a lot of their own money for classroom supplies. One of the things we kind of look at and try to figure out how best to support you guys with that,” Cabarrus County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Lowder told the Royal Oaks teachers after the surprise was revealed. “This past summer the North Carolina legislature and the senate tried to take up that issue too and deal with ways they may help with that area. We just want to say thank you to him (Newton) and the North Carolina legislature and senate and what they are trying to do to help our teachers” (https://www.independenttribune.com/news/teachers-surprised-with-staples-gift-cards-more-on-the-way/article_614371d4-cbd7-11e8-9bab-cb7f6bde9760.html).

So, a state politician in an election year has used a provision from a budget passed through a nuclear option and funneled tax payer money to give “money” to teachers less than a month from election day.

Senator Newton’s past voting record is nothing more than rubber-stamping what his party’s leadership has championed. One just needs to look at his voting record: https://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/voteHistory/MemberVoteHistory.pl?sSession=2017&sChamber=S&nUserID=990.

That voting record is not one that has championed public education, but Newton’s rhetoric in his 2016 says that he prioritizes public education while he supports “school choice.”

From Nov 1, 2016’s copy of the Independent Tribune quoting Newton’s stance on public schools:

Better Schools .  Our public schools should be the #1 choice for teachers all across America.  I see no reason we cannot become the best performing and most desired educational choice in the nation.  We must restore respect in the classroom. I place the highest value on our teachers.  They are having an enormous impact on our next generation.  In addition, we must continue to offer choice.  Private, Charter and Home schools all belong in the education mix. Parents should be able to choose the educational path that is best for their children (https://www.independenttribune.com/news/n-c-senate-district-robert-brown-and-paul-newton/article_f46a996e-a079-11e6-b174-fbe50531be97.html).

This recent action of giving teachers “supply money” is reminiscent of another lawmaker’s actions this past spring.

Rep. Jeff Tarte (R-Meck) wrote in a provision in the recent budget that would actually have had the state fund a DonorsChoose.org initiative to help buy supplies for schools in his district.

Not other districts. His district.


He literally was trying to get the state to fund schools in his district in a hotly-contested election cycle through a non-profit that takes a portion of the funds for overhead.

But DonorsChoose.org does not actually condone this type of “fundraising.” Why? Because it is electioneering – pure and simple.

Just like what Sen. Newton is doing here.

With all that has happened to the public school system under those whose policies that Sen. Newton rubber-stamps, giving teachers money for supplies after the school year has started in an area not decimated by the recent hurricane in a state that still lags in per-pupil expenditures on the national scale with statewide taxpayer money is nothing more than pure electioneering.

But if I was in his district and he wanted to “buy my vote” he could have pushed to fully fund schools statewide for all students and all teachers and all citizens.

And not make it a publicity stunt.



We Needed That School Bond on the Ballot – An Intentionally Lost Opportunity to Help Public Schools

State Superintendent Mark Johnson sent out the following tweet today.


Yes, it is a good thing that there will be monies available to these school systems, but this tweet begs other questions.

Is this the same General Assembly that purposefully denied the voters in this state to decide whether or not to put a $1.9 billion dollar school bond on the ballot to help schools across the state physically update their facilities to weather the coming years?

Did Mark Johnson fight to have that school bond put on the ballot?

And why is the state making already “economically distressed districts” have to provide matching funds to be able to get any of this money to begin with?

Look closely at Hui’s original tweet:

NC Schools Supt. ⁦⁩ announces $141 million in school construction grants to 13 economically distressed districts. Instead of putting school bond on ballot, created this fund & required LEAs to provide matching cash.

That fund is there because the NCGA did not want to put it on the ballot. Now that we have had Hurricane Florence decimate much of eastern NC, counties that were already economically distressed now have to spend what little they may have in reserve to help build so much besides just the schools.

But Johnson is thanking the NCGA for this opportunity for “economically distressed” counties to buy an opportunity to get financial aid in a time of catastrophe.

Wonder how many of those school districts relied on DPI for professional development and outreach that will no longer get it because the state superintendent did not fight to stop budget cuts, but instead let positions in DPI be wiped away?




Mark Twain and the Fight Against “Eduperialism” in North Carolina

“We believe that out of the public school grows the greatness of a nation.”
– Mark Twain

The above quote by Mark Twain was delivered on November 23, 1900 in a speech to the Public Education Association at a meeting of the Berkley Lyceum, New York. It is sometimes called his “Boxer Speech” as Twain makes reference to the Boxer Rebellion in China that was initiated in response to imperialistic influences from other countries entering China.

If one was to read the entire speech within today’s political construct (http://mrholbrookbc.weebly.com/uploads/7/7/5/2/7752425/i_am_a_boxer.pdf), one might fall victim to the nationalistic, patriotic, anti-foreign gloss that may shine on the surface of the speech and automatically relate it to the rhetoric that came from the xenophobic verbiage of the past presidential election.

That is not what Twain is saying. What he is saying is that a country should be free to be its own without outside influences controlling it for profit.

He was making a statement against imperialism.


At the turn of the 20th century, the imperialistic endeavors by many advanced countries through places like Africa, India, and the Far East were violent ventures in capitalistic greed: seizing the resources of a defenseless but asset-rich country and selling manufactured products to boost your country’s economy at the expense of the violated country. Some countries sent in missionaries to “convert” the natives first with organized religion, then they conquered, enslaved, and raped the land.

Read Achebe. Read Conrad. That history is not that long ago.

But many forms of imperialism are still happening today, even within our own country – even within our own public services.

Take for instance, public education.

At least in the state of North Carolina (and I am sure in most other states), the top expenditure is the public education system, whether just K-12 or public university system or both. All of that tax payer money going to allow for an educated citizenry that will then make decisions through a democratic process in a representative republic for the advancement of our country.

Sounds great. Sounds fundamental. Sounds American. It’s even in the state constitution of North Carolina and most every state constitution I have read through.

However, the resources that public education has, mainly funds, have become targets for many people who want to capitalize from those ventures: privatizers, “re-formers,” “advocates” for choice, voucher supporters, etc.

Maybe they could be called “eduperialists” who practice “eduperialism.”

“Ed u pe ri al ism” – the policy of extending the rule or authority of a lawmaking body or private entity over public funds set aside for public education to promote privatization of education for a select few.

Think of vouchers. That’s public money being used to allow people to send students to private schools and religious schools that can alter their admissions policies to ensure that all who may want to attend may not have that opportunity. Eduperialists in North Carolina even call their vouchers the “Opportunity Grants.”

Think of unregulated charter school growth. Especially in rural areas, public money that could be used to strengthen the very public schools for the local students is being used to help fund charter schools that will serve a fraction of the students but without the regulatory constructions placed upon traditional public schools.

Think of the Achievement School Districts. The one in North Carolina renamed the “Innovative School District” just started and it is being run by a “foreign” entity.

Someone is making a profit in all of those ventures with public resources.

And what’s happening in North Carolina is by far not the only example in the country. Michigan with the work of Betsy DeVos already displayed, Ohio with its charter school debacle, and Tennessee with its ASD troubles just begin the list.

Just like the old imperialistic handbook states, people with power came in and took away local control, dehumanized the system, and placed in authority puppets to prolong the partisan policy. Here in North Carolina, they put in nearly impossible accountability measures, school performance grade protocols, took away teacher due process and other benefits, and then egregiously placed incredible amounts of power in the hands of a  political ally elected as a state superintendent in a rather contentious election season.

Sounds about right.

Now that is not to say that all ventures in charter schools are bad. Originally, they were constructed as experimental labs to help instruct students not serviced well in traditional schools, but they would than share those methods and styles with traditional public schools to help bring more pedagogical diversity to public schooling. Those do exist. Some are very good.

Some students need financial help to attend very specialized schools if they happen to have developmental delays, learning disabilities, or physical impairments. But when “school choice” and vouchers are being touted as measures to help low income families maybe government needs to look more at how neighborhood schools can be helped to help low income families.

Maybe state governments like North Carolina’s can look more at helping communities where low income families live. With nearly 25% of NC school children living in poverty, efforts to take public money for vouchers, unregulated charter schools, and other privatization efforts simply take more away from those in need.

Later in his speech Twain exclaims,

“It is curious to reflect how history repeats itself the world over. Why, I remember the same thing was done when I was a boy on the Mississippi River. There was a proposition in a township there to discontinue public schools because they were too expensive. An old farmer spoke up and said if they stopped the schools they would not save anything, because every time a school was closed a jail had to be built.”

And again, history is repeating history. It also makes a case for the liberal arts.

“It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. He’ll never get fat. I believe it is better to support schools than jails.”

I wonder what Twain would say today.

Probably not much different.

Especially here in North Carolina.

Vote to Help Keep Great Teachers In NC’s Classrooms

When you become a public school teacher there are sets of rules and dictates you must abide by. There are laws. There are procedures. There are decrees. There are edicts. There is protocol.

And there are expectations.

When parents, students, voters, taxpayers, government officials, post-secondary institutions, and employers all have some sort of stake in the public education system, there are expectations involved, whether they are clearly defined or even obtainable.

In an election year like this one here in North Carolina, we are seeing an onslaught of “re-forming” efforts aimed at redefining public education that twenty years ago could not have been expected.

Testing, mandates, evaluation systems, salary “adjustments”, due-process removal, vouchers, charters, and lack of support have made the road to teaching and learning an uphill climb on an unnavigable path constantly being obstructed by those who view public schools from the outside.

And there are still those expectations.

Yet there are the expectations that great teachers place on themselves.

The teachers that I admire the most, the ones in whose classes I want my own kids to matriculate through, and the ones I try to emulate all abide by a set of expectations that define how they approach teaching the whole student.

Maybe you could define them as rules, laws, procedures, decrees, edicts, or whatever, but they define how master teachers view their profession.

And while they are unwritten, they are clearly etched in their actions and words. Furthermore, they help define the human aspect of the student/teacher relationship – the most important dynamic in the schooling.

  • Great teachers teach every child as if he/she can learn if given the right opportunities and the right instruction.
  • Great teachers teach every child in class no matter what religious creed he/she abides by and even those students who claim no religion or claim there is no god.
  • Great teachers teach every child in class no matter what sexual orientation or identity he/she has. A transgender student is as valued a member of my class as the star athlete.
  • Great teachers teach every child in class no matter what his/her family’s income is.
  • Great teachers teach every child in my class no matter what their nuclear family looks like or how they define themselves.
  • Great teachers teach every child in class no matter if his/her belief system is different than theirs, whether political, social, or religious.
  • Great teachers celebrate a student’s academic and personal growth.
  • Great teachers intercede on behalf of students to administration and guidance if they believe there is something else that can be done to help the student succeed.
  • Great teachers celebrate a student’s personal achievements outside of the classroom.
  • Great teachers listen to a student when he or she has a problem that affects his or her ability to learn. Then I will act on that information with the student’s best interest in mind.

But there are things that students must do as well. If not, the student/teacher relationship breaks down.

  • Students must be willing to learn and put forth the effort to succeed.
  • Students must be willing to advocate for themselves and ask questions when needed. They must seek opportunities to be tutored and get extra help if needed.
  • Students must be willing to let teachers and administrators know if there are obstacles in their way.
  • Students must show up physically and mentally.

Now, if the government spent more time removing obstacles that would allow for the student/teacher relationship to remain central in schooling and spent more resources outfitting the needs that schools identify, then there would be no talk of whether public school were meeting expectations.

In fact, we would be busy setting even higher ones.

But if the current climate of public schooling here in North Carolina remains as it is, we will lose those great teachers.

And we need them now more than ever.